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A chinowa (‘big wheel of grass’) is a circular structure with a bamboo core, around which silvergrass stems (miscanthus) are usually placed. Shinto rituals with chinowa rings have a very long history in Japan, dating back at least to the eighth century CE.
W.G. Aston’s book Shinto: The Way of the Gods from 1905 describes how, in those days, it was not uncommon to walk through the chinowa holding hemp leaves and silvergrass while reciting this poem:
“The sixth month’s
Who ever doeth
It is said to extend his life
To one thousand years”.
Chinowa are central to the Nagoshi no Harae ritual which takes place in Japan every year at the end of June. It is an ancient Shinto cleansing ritual, and one of the most celebrated. Chinowa are temporarily placed at shrines across the country, where they are visited by thousands of people seeking purification.
Sometimes accompanied by a Shinshoku (a person serving at a Shinto shrine), participants in this ritual step back and forth through this ring three times, making the shape of a figure eight, or lemniscate, the symbol of infinity. This passage is not just an act of purification; it eliminates sins, misfortune and illness, and promotes happiness for the rest of the year.
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